Just like wanting the ability to eat what I want and not gain weight (which sadly was no longer an option once I hit my 30s) my need to ‘have it all’ has not stayed limited to my love for peanut butter M&M’s.
When I first started my career, fresh out of university, I was a doe-eyed optimist with a Psychology degree under her belt, ready to dive into the workforce….and boy, did I dive in! I launched my career working for children services where it became clear that I had a knack for working in the field of psychological trauma. I could not always prevent the trauma, but made darn well sure that I was there to help survive it! It was not long before I started to live and breathe the job, just like my colleagues in the field did. After a few years of working close to 12 hour days in high risk situations and court deadlines, I decided to take it down a notch and move into private practice.
I loved my job and everything it stood for. The only people I had to look out for was me and the dog (yes, he counts as human). Then, another many years later… I met a French boy. (*blush*)
From day one we knew Australia would not be our final destination and a year and a half later I followed him back to Europe. Coming from an expat family myself, the idea of moving away did not scare me as such. I had finally found someone I wanted to actually commit to and although some interpreted my move as ‘throwing away my career’, I saw it as a great opportunity to learn more, be with the one I loved, and you know…. ‘having it all (and of course the dog came along as well…).
Fast forward another 3 years, when we welcomed our first baby girl and life truly changed for both of us. I had never experienced this feeling of; being so busy you didn’t have time for anything, yet feeling so bored at the same time. I felt like I couldn’t identify as anything else but ‘a mom’ and although I poured my heart and soul into this gorgeous little monkey, I didn’t feel like I was making a difference in the world anymore. Please don’t get me wrong, being a stay-at-home-parent is a full time and admirable job and for those doing it every day, you’re bloody amazing and my hat goes off to you! This is merely a depiction of what I was feeling at that time and the internal struggle I felt, missing my career and trying to find my place again. I like working, having a routine and feeling like I’m going to be a productive member of society for the day.
I expected life to change when I chose to follow my husband overseas, and I felt nothing but excitement. I expected life to change when we started having kids, and I felt nothing but love… some fatigue… a bit of nausea… but mostly love. But what I didn’t expect was the feeling of guilt when I decided to give up some of that precious time and go back to work, paired with the resentment I felt every time I lugged a big laundry basket down the stairs.
I wanted the best of both worlds, but that was just no longer an option. I made the choice to shelf my career for the time being by working in a less stressful job with fewer hours. Coming to terms with these new priorities in life still creates the occasional internal battle but as I won’t give up one for the other, I have had to find a middle ground.
Below I’ve summarized a few challenges we might experience when we temporary bench, change or completely stop our careers for the ones we love.
- Drop the guilt-trip
There is absolutely nobody, other than yourself, judging you for giving up on the work you were doing in order to put your family’s priorities first. You didn’t fail because you’re holding a degree you’re not using nor did you waste the last 10 years to just be a house wife/husband. What we did before molds us into who we become today, that doesn’t change no matter where our paths take us. We are our own harshest critics. Those who do judge don’t know your story and therefore don’t deserve your guilt either.
- You can’t have your cake and eat it too…( mmm cake)
Of course there are many couples who still have a career whilst raising beautiful and happy children… it is indeed possible! Having a career does not mean you make unhappy babies, but it’s only realistic to acknowledge that one does impacts the other. Like a scale, the balance changes from day to day. That doesn’t mean it can’t be great… we just can’t have it all. The sooner we drop that expectation, the sooner we can jump on the seesaw and just go where gravity takes us and balance as best as we can.
- It’s okay to feel resentful once in a while, just don’t drown in it
There’s nothing wrong in feeling that bit of bitterness from time to time. I sporadically have pangs of resentment when seeing my single friends go out for a nice dinner or when my husband takes on an exciting challenge at work. I’m no longer the career girl with crazy hours who can enjoy an after-work drink at a moment’s notice, but then I come home to my kid licking the window while the other one is laughing hysterically at her feet, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I think we all look back at certain moments in our past with much fondness, but that doesn’t mean we want to be right back there either. And of course, having kids does not mean you become a total shut-in, that too, is a choice (one, I know, I personally need to put more effort in).
- Sacrifice is a team effort
My husband and I chose to rank our jobs to make a conscious decision which one to prioritize (future opportunities, financial input, location etc.). We opted to follow his career while I put mine on hold for the time being. But a decision like that is made together, and there is not one party sacrificing more than the other. As a couple, the most important aspect is to remain part of a team. Where I have given up certain things for him, he has most certainly given up things for me as well. I know, at times, because I was no longer the main breadwinner, I felt like I didn’t contribute as much as my husband did, which clouded my view and often lead to arguments. Not once has my adorable Frenchman made me feel like I’m not contributing, but, yet again, my own inside voice put me down more than anyone else. I know my partner fully supports me when I decide to jump back in the saddle… no one needs to be the martyr.
I’m not certain I’d fully get back into the career I had before, but I know this isn’t the end of the road just yet. Little children grow up and become more independent, so there’s nothing stopping me from taking on more challenges when they do. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy these little rugrats and the bearded lover who is the absolute cheese to my macaroni, and be grateful for all that I have. I might not have it all, but it’s more than I need and for that I feel like the luckiest one.